Australasian Science: Australia's authority on science since 1938

Clay Formulation Enhances Weight Loss

The accidental discovery that specific clay materials can soak up fat droplets in the gut could potentially be used to treat obesity.

“I was investigating the capacity of specifically clay materials to improve the oral delivery and absorption of antipsychotic drugs, when I noticed that the clay particles weren’t behaving as I’d expected,” explains PhD candidate Tahnee Dening of the University of South Australia. “Instead of breaking down to release drugs, the clay materials were attracting fat droplets and literally soaking them up.”

Using rats fed a high-fat diet, Dening’s research compared the effects of montmorillonite (a natural clay material purified from dirt), laponite (a synthetic clay), the weight loss drug orlistat and a placebo. Over a 2-week period she found that while both of the clay formulations and orlistat delivered weight loss effects, the clay material outperformed the drug.

“Our processed clay has an unusually high surface area, which means it has a huge capacity to interact with and soak up digested fats and oils present in the foods we eat,” Dening says. “Orlistat, on the other hand, is an enzyme inhibitor that blocks up to 30% of dietary fat digestion and absorption, which leads to weight loss but has unpleasant side-effects such as stomach aches, bloating, flatulence and diarrhoea, which limits its use in weight loss as people choose to stop using it.

“What we’re researching now is a synergistic approach with both the clay material and orlistat. The orlistat blocks the enzyme that digests fat molecules, and the clay particles trap these fats so they’re excreted out of the body without causing gastrointestinal disturbances.

“We’re essentially attacking fat digestion and absorption in two different ways, and we hope this will lead to greater weight loss with fewer side-effects.”

Dening says that both montmorillonite and laponite are manufactured and purified to meet strict regulatory requirements for human use, but warned that “common garden soils do not possess the same absorbent properties as montmorillonite and laponite clay materials, and thus will not cause a weight loss effect. Eating dirt is likely to be dangerous as soil can contain worms, animal faeces, fungi and heavy metals including lead. People who eat it also risk contracting parasitic and bacterial infections.”